2016/01/16 (S) Fort Myers Beach Marilyn
I got up at 8:15 AM, cleaned the cats’ food bowls, fed them, and then made coffee. I replied to an e-mail from BCM publisher Gary Hatt regarding which article he planned to run in March and which one in April. I then downloaded my photos from the last two days from my camera to my computer. Linda slept in and did not get up until 9:10. We both felt like we have had too much less-than-ideal food to eat the last few days and split a grapefruit for breakfast.
Our plans for the day revolved around meeting Linda’s sister, Sr. Marilyn, at noon at the Diamond Head Beach Resort and Spa in Fort Myers Beach where she is attending an educational conference and taking CPE courses to maintain her counseling license. The conference was being put on by her religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Corondelet. Marilyn told us the resort parking was outside but the entrance had a relatively low bar over it so I took the ham radio antenna off of our car before we left at 10 AM for the drive to Fort Myers Beach.
Two hours should have been plenty of time to get there but we finally discovered the downstate traffic congestion that many fellow RV/snowbirds have mentioned to us. The trip down FL-31 south was an easy, pleasant drive through citrus groves and ranches. It ended at FL-80 where we headed west towards Ft. Myers. We had the GPS set for “shortest route” so it took us through town instead of putting us on I-75 but it was an interesting route and we got to see different parts of the city including downtown and McGreger Avenue, which is lined with large Royal Palms. It was also the location of the adjacent Henry Ford and Thomas Edison estates. In spite of the traffic we will probably venture back there at some point to see the estates.
Apparently everyone was headed to Ft. Myers Beach today as the last few miles to get onto the island took one hour. It was the worst traffic I seen in years. There is only one bridge connecting the north end of the island to the mainland and there are two lanes of traffic that funnel down into one. The lanes have a divider between them and are controlled by separate stop lights. We had never seen anything like it before. Linda texted Marilyn with a revised ETA.
When we finally pulled into the parking lot of the hotel at 12:30 PM Marilyn was waiting for us. We paid for parking ($10), parked the car, and went directly to Cabana’s, the hotel’s beachfront bar/restaurant. Linda had a margarita and I had a frozen strawberry daiquiri. What can I say? I like fruit drinks.
For lunch Linda and I both had veggie burgers and Marilyn had the Portobello mushroom burger. The veggie burgers were mushy, as they often are, but the French fries were coated with something before being fried, probably flour, and were excellent. After we were done eating Linda and Marilyn walked out onto the beach where Linda took her shoes off and walked in the ocean. Our $10 parking fee got us a voucher for the same amount which we applied to the lunch bill.
We spent the next 90 minutes strolling a portion of Estero Boulevard, the main/only street that runs the length of the island. I took a few photographs and we wandered into a few shops but did not buy anything. We also walked out on the pier where we got a close up look at two Pelicans and a great view of the very crowded beach to the north and south. This place definitely had that upscale but slightly funky, seaside resort, winter getaway vibe that is one of the reasons people flock to such places.
We were back at the hotel at 3:30 PM. Marilyn had something to do at 4 PM so we took our leave and got back into the bumper-to-bumper traffic that was now moving slowly towards the bridge and off the island. But at least it was moving, and once we cleared the bridge traffic moved along much better. I changed the GPS to “fastest route” and it took us over different roads to I-75 and then north five miles to FL-80 where we retraced our earlier route (in reverse) to get back to Arcadia. At the intersection of FL-80 and FL-31 we stopped at a Publix supermarket and bought a couple of bottled drinks.
It had been a long day and I did not feel like working at my computer. We tuned in a program on PBS at 8 PM and doodled on our iPads. Linda was checking the weather and the forecast for overnight was starting to look ominous. When the program ended at 9:30 we went outside to retract our awnings and put our folding chairs and table away. We stowed the big patio awning last and it started to rain lightly as we completed that task. We left the TV on and watched the weather situation closely. I finally went to bed at midnight knowing that we would not got a full, restful night’s sleep.
2016/01/17 (N) Bad Weather
The cold front that swept across the Florida peninsula overnight was draped off of an intense low pressure system that moved from Texas along the Gulf coast shore into the Florida panhandle and eventually along the Florida/Georgia border and off into the Atlantic. The front, combined with a low level jetstream, raced across the area at 50 to 60 miles per hour triggering numerous thunderstorms and spawning a few tornados.
We had followed the development of the system closely before going to bed at midnight as both channel 11 and 20 had continuous storm team coverage. At 4:30 AM we received severe weather alerts on our phones. Linda’s phone has a loud klaxon warning sound associated with these alerts and we were instantly wide awake. We put on our sweats, so that we would at least be dressed in case we had to leave the rig, and turned on the TV.
Arcadia, including our Big Tree Carefree RV Resort, was in the northeast corner of a tornado warning box. It had started raining, off and on, well before midnight but as the storm front moved into our area thunderstorms came with it, one with Doppler radar indicated rotation. There was lightning and thunder, of course, and the rain became steady and very heavy. The wind really picked up but never became tornadic. We stayed up until 5:30 AM by which time the main storm front had passed. There were a few lingering cells behind it but the meteorologists gave the “all clear” for our area and we went back to bed.
The temperature was in the upper 60’s when we got up at 8:30 AM, rose slightly to about 70, and then dropped throughout the day as the front that triggered the storms raced off into the Atlantic opening the door for much colder air to flow in behind it, courtesy of the Polar Vortex that was plunging most of the Eastern U. S. and Canada into a deep freeze.
The rest of the day was uneventful with pleasant weather. My focus was selecting and processing photos from the recent Arcadia Rally 2016 for the bonus content section of the digital edition of the March 2016 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine. Linda worked on her counted cross-stitch project and went for several walks. I joined her for brief strolls after lunch and dinner. For dinner Linda made vegan chili from scratch. It was very good. We watched Downton Abbey on PBS after which Linda went to bed while I continued to work on photos.
2016/01/18 (M) The Capitol Steps
The air mass behind the cold front that swept out of the Gulf of Mexico, across Florida, and out into the Atlantic Ocean yesterday was noticeably colder and drier than normal for southwest Florida. The temperature overnight dropped to 47 degrees, so we slept well and woke to clear skies and crisp air.
Our day revolved around the 3 PM performance at the Venice Theater of the political comedy musical group The Capitol Steps. Venice is over an hour’s drive from Arcadia so we arranged with Steve and Karen Limkemann to make a day of it that would include lunch, photography at the Venice Rookery, the show, and dinner.
We skipped breakfast, showered, and dressed up enough to be presentable for the theater. We gathered up several layers of outerwear and I put the 100-300 mm zoom lens on the Sony a99v. We left at 10 AM and stopped at the Shell station in Arcadia to top up the fuel tank. Dunkin Donuts was right next door so we each got coffee and a blueberry bagel to split. I got a frozen coffee drink made with almond milk and mocha. I had never had one of these from DD and it was pretty good.
I had the GPS set for fastest route. It took us out FL-72 towards Myakka State Park, which I expected, but then took us south on County Road 769. Along the way we saw the usual assortment of citrus groves, ranches, and birds but also saw a Bald Eagle. CR-769 turned southwest and eventually intersected I-75 where we headed “north.” Although it was another 25 miles to the Nokomis exit, I-75 ran mostly east-west for this stretch so this route actually made a lot of sense. It was only a couple of miles from the exit to Steve and Karen’s place and there was a Publix supermarket along the way, so we stopped and bought them a bag of M&M’s to replace ones we had eaten on our last visit and were going to eat on this one. Not vegan, but a small indulgence.
We got to Steve and Karen’s place at Bay Lake Estates at 11:30 AM. At 11:45 we walked to Cafe Evergreen about 1.5 miles away, an easy walk on a sidewalk without having to cross any major streets. Cafe Evergreen is a small, all organic, restaurant with a good selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes. We both had salads for lunch and they were very good. Everything we have had to eat here has been excellent and the service has always been on a par with the quality of the food.
We walked back to Steve and Karen’s and visited until we left at 2:15 PM to drive to the Venice Theatre. Parking can be a problem in downtown Venice but Steve found a parking space on a side street near the theatre. We have enjoyed The Capitol Steps every time we have seen them and this show was as good as any. Laughter really is the best medicine.
The show was done around 5 PM. By the time we made our way to the restrooms and out of the theatre it was 5:15 PM. Steve drove us to the Venice Rookery where we bundled up against the chilly air and Steve and I got out our cameras. The sky was clear except for some thin clouds to the west and I took quite a few photos in the quickly changing light. Sunset was just before 6 PM and we stayed until 6:30 to watch bats emerge from their purpose-built houses atop tall, slender poles. We headed back to Cafe Evergreen where we had 7 PM dinner reservations.
Linda, Karen, and I drank lots of coffee, which was smooth and warm. Linda and I had stir-fried kelp noodles with vegetables served over a bed of couscous with an Asian style sauce. It was delicious and had a wonderful texture. We each had a vegan indulgence for dessert; cranberry pecan for me and chocolate peanut butter for Linda. It was a very satisfying meal.
We got back to Steve and Karen’s at 8:45 PM and decided to head for home. We reversed our earlier route and were back at our coach before 10 PM. We watched NCIS Los Angeles and went to bed, tired from a long, but very satisfying day.
2016/01/19 (T) VZW Data Usage
We left the windows open about inch yesterday, along with the kitchen ceiling vent (but no fan), so it would not get too warm inside from the sun while we were away. It was cool inside when we got home at 10 PM and we closed up the coach in anticipation of the outside temperature overnight dropping into the low 40’s. Last night was another cool one, literally.
There are only a few hot dishes that Linda makes for breakfast and most of them are a lot of work. The one dish that is relatively easy is oatmeal, and it is a great choice for a cool/cold morning. It stays warm long enough to eat it before it gets cold, is a hearty (and heart healthy) dish, and stays with you for quite a while.
Linda stopped at the resort office yesterday to see if they could cut the grass around our site while we were gone for the day. The awnings were up and our chairs/table were still put away from the weekend storms, so the site was clear. The office said they probably would not get to it on Monday as the ground and grass was too wet but when we finally left the coach today we saw that they had, in fact, mowed the area.
We have been on the go more than sitting still for the last week and needed some time at the coach to do things. I needed to wrap up work on two articles for BCM and settled in today to do that. Today (the 19th of the month) is also the end of our Verizon Wireless billing cycle. We do not have park Wi-Fi at our site in Big Tree Carefree RV Resort and have been leaving our Verizon Mi-Fi on continuously. We managed to use almost all of our 11 GB of data during the current billing cycle so I wanted to spend today working on photos for the articles and defer uploading them until tomorrow.
Before getting back into my BCM rally article I copied all of the photos that I took yesterday at the Venice Rookery from the camera to my computer. Linda tries to create a new postcard for Madeline every Tuesday and wanted a picture from the Rookery. My best photos were of individual birds or small groups but she wanted something that would give Madeline a better visual understanding of just what a rookery is.
I finally selected a photo with lots of different birds in lots of different positions, including some in flight. Linda logged into the PhotoCardApp on her iPad and determined that the post cards the company creates and mails out are 8.25″ by 5.5″, which is a 3:2 aspect ratio. That is also the native format of my Sony SLT-a99v. Using Faststone Image Viewer (FIV) I was able to resize the image to the exact size of the postcard. I then e-mailed it to Linda’s Gmail account which, in spite of our local area network in the bus, is the easy (only?) way to get it from my computer to her iPad.
While I was processing the image Linda looked up the term “rookery” and discovered that its meaning is more specific than we thought. While it is, indeed, a place where birds roost and build nests (typically in trees) it is actually specific to rooks, which are a crow-like bird. It has, however, become the generic term for a place where one or more species of bird roost, breed, nest, and raise their young.
Besides the main post card photo the PhotoCardApp allows you to create your own stamps. Creating a stamp costs two credits but once it’s created you can use it over and over for just the cost of the postage. (You get 30 credits for $25 and each card costs 2 credits to create, produce, and mail.) We do not have a lot of photos of the two of us together as one of us (usually me) is typically behind the camera. We have a nice head and shoulders photo that our son took that I use at the end of my BCM articles. I e-mailed that to Linda and she used it to create a personalized stamp. I found a second photo of us that someone took at the 2014 GLAMARAMA Rally so I processed it and e-mailed it to Linda to use for a second stamp if she wanted. We are both wearing our bright yellow GLCC dress shirts, so it is very RV specific.
We tried Facetiming with Brendan, Shawna, and Madeline Sunday evening but the connection was too slow so we talked on the phone. They were in Washington D. C. for a conference related to Shawna’s research and Madeline got to visit the Natural History Museum and see dinosaur skeletons. The PhotoCardApp also has a large collection of “stickers” that can be added to a post card, so Linda added an electronic dinosaur “sticker” to the one she was working on.
The last couple of days there was some confusion between BCM owner/publisher Gary Hatt, the layout person (Jorge Escobar, in Columbia), and myself regarding which article they were running in the March 2016 issue. Gary cleared that up in favor of my article on the Arcadia Rally 2016. That, in turn, allowed me to move ahead with finishing that article today, which I finally did around dinner time. My only breaks were to eat lunch and go for short walks.
Linda worked on her counted cross-stitch project but took time out to go on several longer walks, including one to the local Winn-Dixie supermarket. She planned to make a bean soup for dinner and needed a few ingredients. The soup was based on a package of mixed beans and lentils she bought at a health food store in Frankenmuth, Michigan back in October. She added water, tomato sauce, garlic, onion, greens, chili powder, and turmeric. By the time we sat down to dinner the sun had set and the temperature was dropping so the hot soup was not only delicious but really hit the spot.
We walked over to the mail room after dinner. My new driver’s license had arrived. The registrations and tabs for the bus and car arrived a few days ago so as of now we are not expecting any more mail.
Back at the coach I turned on the electric toe-kick heaters and plugged in the Broan portable cube heater rather than run the Aqua-Hot. We put on our Tuesday evening TV programs but I was in a groove and turned my attention to selecting and processing photos to go with blog posts. I got through my images for November and December and the first few days of January by 11 PM when the last show ended and Linda headed off to bed.
We still had 1.5 GB of data left in our current billing cycle, which ended at midnight, although I was not sure in what time zone. I knew the data for my BCM Arcadia rally article was not more than 0.5 GB so I uploaded it before our data allocation reset. It’s expensive to exceed our allocation but there is also a “cost” associated with not using what we have paid for.
I turned the thermostats on the toe-kick heaters back and turned off the Broan cube heater. I turned on the electric heating pad on my side of the bed, set it to 4, and activated the pre-heat function. I finally got to bed around 12:30 AM and snuggled in under the blankets.
2016/01/20 (W) Cellular Options
I don’t know if the outside temperature got into the upper 30’s last night but even with the coach closed up the temperature inside dropped to 59 degrees F. Linda got up first this morning and turned up the thermostats on the electric toe-kick heaters. I got up a few minutes later and turned on the Aqua-Hot diesel burner and the three thermostats that control the zone pumps and fans on the heat exchangers in the house portion of the bus.
We had slept in a bit and were sitting around in our sweats while the coach warmed up when we realized at 7:55 that the Wednesday coffee was starting in five minutes. We did not feel like going over in our sweats or changing clothes so I made coffee in our coach like I do almost every morning. The problems (for us) with the Wednesday morning coffee, based on having been one time, is that there is no opportunity to socialize and it takes too long. It was well attended the one time we went so it apparently serves the needs of the resort management and most of the residents.
Linda used her iPad2 to check in on the world and I used mine to finish up my blog posts for the last few days. We eventually had granola with blueberries and bananas for breakfast, which is always a treat. Linda walked our kitchen trash over to the dumpster and then continued walking the park for her first walk of the day.
My original objective for today was to upload image and document files for my Arcadia Rally 2016 article to my BCM Dropbox folder, but I got that done before I went to bed last night. Although I have a lot work to do on several websites, including ours, I wanted to put the finishing touches on my featured bus article about Ronnie and Diann Mewbourn’s 1969 Model 07 Eagle bus conversion and move two technical articles from “proofreading” to “ready” status. Gary has not had Kathy proofread/edit any of them yet so that had to wait for another day. I also wanted to continue selecting/processing photos for my January blog posts but got distracted with system updates for my ASUS laptop computer.
I ran the CCleaner program and then ran the Windows 8.1 disk check utility. I ran it because MS Outlook keeps “encountering a problem and has to close” or stops responding. The check disk utility did not find any errors so I downloaded a new version of Defraggler and started it. I probably should have run it overnight as it ran all day and through the evening. I think I could have worked while it was running but I have always preferred to let disk defragmenters run without anything else tasking the system.
With my computer tied up and my blog post drafts up-to-date I had a little time on my hands. Linda is always up for another walk so we walked over to the CellularSales store, an Authorized Verizon Retailer located on an out lot of the Walmart shopping center. The shopping center is on the other side of Highway 70 so we used the crosswalk at the traffic signal for the shopping center entrance. This stoplight also serves the entrance to the 55+ community immediately to the east of our RV resort and is where we make our U-turn when headed east to head back west to the entrance to our resort.
The reason for our visit was that we became eligible for device upgrades back in April and wanted to check out what was available in smartphones and data plans. We were also looking for a new Mi-Fi device that Chris and Cherie (Technomadia) reported on in their Mobile Internet Aficionados (MIA) site. We usually work with Verizon corporate stores but there isn’t one in Arcadia. The store was large, spacious, very nice, and not busy so Toby was able to spend some relaxed time answering our questions.
The Mi-Fi device we wanted to see was the new Netgear AC791L but CellularSales did not have one and Toby was not familiar with it. They did not even have the Novatel 6620L and were still selling the Novatel 5510L which is what we have now and want to replace. We got our 5510L in June 2013 from a Verizon retailer in Gillette, Wyoming and our friends at the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center (MIA) consider it obsolete and no longer even report on it.
We also looked at new phones and learned that the Samsung Note 4 and Note 5, along with the Galaxy VI smartphone, do not have removable batteries. Toby viewed that as a negative and we agreed. The Galaxy V smartphone, which does have a removable battery, would still be an upgrade over our Galaxy III phones. It has a larger screen but not as large as the Note devices, which are almost too large to hold up to your ear. Toby also showed us the new LG phone which was very nice but again did not have a removable battery. It’s the newest competitor to the Samsung Galaxy S VI. We will do more research before deciding what, if anything, to do. The AC791L, in particular, appears to be available online without a contract and at a better price than in a retail outlet.
As long as we were on the other side of the highway we stopped at Walmart and bought a loaf of Italian bread to go with our soup for dinner. When we got back to our coach the disk defragmenter on my computer was still only part way through the disk and indicating the time remaining as “> 1 day.” The temperature outside was near perfect, not too warm or cool, so Linda got out one of our chairs and sat outside reading while I stayed inside and took a nap.
I got up a couple of hours later and wiled away what was left of the afternoon. We have been keeping an eye on our male cat, Jasper, who has lost little patches of fur from several spots on his back, and finally decided that we should get him in to see a vet. The closest one is on FL-31 less than a mile from our RV resort and is the one that folks in the resort recommended. Linda was looking for reviews online but could not find the clinic so she drove over in the car to get the name and phone number. It turned out that she had found the veterinarian’s name but he used to work out of his house at a different location. We plan to drive out towards Lake Okeechobee tomorrow but will call the veterinary clinic first and make an appointment for Friday.
As the sun sank in the western sky the temperature cooled off quickly and we closed up the coach. Linda heated the rest of the soup she made yesterday and we sat down at 7 PM to a simple but delicious dinner of soup and bread. We turned on the TV after dinner, watched Jeopardy, and then switched to PBS to watch the Wednesday night nature/science programs.
The last 10 days have been very busy and somewhat intense for us. We had been to the woodcarvers expo in Punta Gorda, visited with Steve and Karen, met Ron and Mary at Myakka State Park, visited with them again at our RV resort, attended the Tampa RV Supershow in conjunction with strong weather, visited Marilyn in Fort Myers Beach, dealt with severe weather again, followed by a long day of working on photos for my BCM rally article, had a long day visiting Steve and Karen in Nokomis again and seeing The Capitol Steps at the Venice Theatre, eating at Cafe Evergreen twice and then visiting the Venice Rookery to take photographs before returning home, had finally had another really long day yesterday selecting/processing photos and placing them in my BCM article. Looking back at all of that we were probably due for an easy, low activity day, and one of the nice things about retirement is that we can usually have “do nothing” days whenever we want.
When I checked my computer it was still showing 17 hours to complete the defragmentation so I went to bed.